Writer’s resolutions 2016 by Cayenne Michaels

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

(called out in a, hopefully, cheerful voice)

I’m so not the right blogger to write the festive season post.

I’m traumatized by childhood memories of polishing silver, cleaning the porcelain and hurting my back from pulling out the couch to remove the colony of dust balls that had sought shelter there since last Christmas. They knew it was the only place in the whole house where they’d be safe from the vacuum cleaner until next year’s Christmas clean. These were just a few of the points on Mom’s endlessly long list of Things to Do and we worked our asses off up to the afternoon on Christmas Eve.

When dusk finally settled and Mom could do nothing more than fret over her mother-in-law (also called The Dragon) and stare through the foggy glass front of the stove, as if she could will the pork rib to roast to perfection, the rest of the family (except The Dragon, I suspect) would sigh in relief and silently vow to eat whatever came out of that stove, regardless how burnt or raw it was. (It took me a while, but as an adult I’ve realized the pressure of catering for a mother-in-law who’s keen to grade everybody’s effort, and why my dad would insist he’d have to make certain the aquavit (Norwegian schnapps) was still drinkable, long before the dinner guests arrived.) Continue reading

FOR THE BEGINNING WRITER

Reblogged from SBK Burns Sci-fi Romance blog http://susanburnsauthor.com/2015/09/10/for-the-beginning-writer/

FOR THE BEGINNING WRITER

In one of my creative writing read-and-critique classes, a first-timer asked me, “If I’m going to write anything of any length, where do I start?” I thanked him, because I’ve been struggling to find some way in which to help my fellow authors to express themselves in a more comfortable and fluid way.

Where do ideas come from?

Personally, I live a life immersed in scientific philosophy (my own cosmology). What that means is, from the time I was very young, I loved to play in the dirt, and with insects and to climb trees and to examine the clouds. That turned into a group of ideas that were nurtured as I attended classes in biology and physics and eventually publishing a paper about an expanding two-dimensional universe.

(Lots of my ramblings about the world (both human and scientific) and my awe at it can be read on my website The Union of Opposites.com (theunionofopposites.com) that mixes the physical with the spiritual.)

So, since the language in any topic of choice is so different and really inaccessible to the layperson, how can we simplify it and integrate it into our stories?

We can boil all of the above intro into three questions that I’ll attempt to answer in this post:

  1. How do I start writing?
  2. What do I write about? What topics seemed important to me both in growing up and now?
  3. Once I find a topic that impassions me, how can I edit what I write so that it speaks to my audience of readers?

Okay, so, I’m sitting at my desk, ready to type on the keyboard. What should I type?

All I can say is “should” can’t be any part of it. Don’t be like that monkey who randomly, after an infinite amount of time, types Shakespeare. But do type.

Type anything. And this may shock—type garbage. Garbage, you say. You have the most noble of goals as a writer. How can I ask you to type garbage? How can you allow yourself?

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Because writing is a layered process, first you need a raw material—no mater how raw—down on the page before you can mold it into something worth reading (you can tell I’ve spent some time as a sculptor). Without creating something, it is impossible to edit. And editing may be the most creative part of the writing process.

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Okay, so, the first requirement to be a good writer (someone who keeps writing and getting ideas, and doesn’t get writer’s block) is to stop judging yourself as a writer or judging any garbage you put down on the page.

How do I find a topic that’s important to me that I’m passionate about?

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Explore. All scientists, with all their mathematics, still have to explore the environment. To know yourself, look at the subjects that are easy for you to write about—the writing you’ve already accomplished. If you can’t find appealing ideas within that, look for topics online and write your opinions about them. Are you practical or logical where others are not? Are you caring and idealistic wanting to see a better world? There are online tests of personality asking questions that you can expound on to find out more about yourself.

I like to write about a once-published science experiment I performed in college. I like to think about how it could apply to the real world of people to make their lives better. Maybe you have some unique way you like to do things that, if you could share them, might improve the lives of others.

How do I begin editing in order to clarify my message to others?

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Personally, I attend four writing groups. Perhaps that was a bit too much to take on with still trying to sit down at a computer—type, edit, indie publish, and promote. The groups are as follows: two read-and-critique groups per week, three critique partners, and a local RWA workshop once a month.

Writing can be lonely unless one forces oneself to be social. So that’s why I interact with so many people each month. And here’s the second challenge to bravery as a writer: not only must the writer survive their own critical lathe, they must survive that of all the others. The best way to do that, even if the critique is upsetting, is to do something I have a problem with—keeping our mouths closed and respectfully taking it. The more we practice being gentle with ourselves in writing those first words, the easier it will be to take criticism from others and be polite while learning from it.

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The more you listen to others and make changes you feel necessary, the more you internalize them as an audience. It’s also important to have people whose work you can edit. The more you edit and share your knowledge with others, the more comfortable you’ll be in critiquing your own work.

You might say the above paragraph sounds a little too optimistic, when you don’t even know, while editing your work, which criticism to take seriously. I take them all seriously, but some more than others. How do I prioritize the importance of my critiquer’s comments? I examine whether the changes they suggest might clarify my meaning. If they do, I keep them. If they don’t, I ignore them. But, usually, I can always find ways of making my writing clearer.

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So, I’ll leave you with this:

  1. Just write and don’t expect it to be great at first.
  2. Be brave by taking criticism in a positive light, both yours and other’s.
  3. Learn by doing. You will learn from yourself and others naturally without school-like cramming the rules into your head.
  4. It’s all about the reader, to bring entertainment and joy into his/her life, so write as clearly and honestly as you can.

Continue reading

Woven Into Knots

Earlier this year, one of my favorite places on the internet, TWOP (TelevisionWithoutPity) was shut down. Thousands of pages of forum posts that meticulously snarked and broke down hundreds of television series were suddenly gone from the internet. I don’t want to admit can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent after watching a series, then reading and responding in discussion about things I loved and things I didn’t.

I was crushed. I’d learned so much reading those threads, and would miss it every time I discovered a new-loved series.

One of the most interesting things I took from my years on that board(mostly reading and lurking) was how many different ideas people had about how a story could go.

As a writer myself, I’m often seeing how true that is, and how even the tiniest decisions are tied to a thread that weaves through a carefully interwoven plot.

One huge plot point in the current story I’m writing has haunted me in this way. In my first outlines, I had two characters come together. I planned out how it would affect them emotionally, but after comments from a friend, I realized how I hadn’t explored in-depth how it would affect their relationships with the people around them. All of a sudden, I realized that some of the those changes would permanently shift the relationships of multiple characters in my story in a way I wasn’t sure I wanted.

It felt uncomfortable to me, and while it could have been interesting, I realized that it would have put a dark cloud over the entire rest of the series. I already have a fairly complex and dark story, and didn’t want it to become so depressing there was no lightness or hope in the read. So, I did what any author does, and adjusted the story to scale back the scene. And then, like the insanity that writing brings, I kept re-adjusting, and then re-adjusting again. With each of those tweaks, I pulled a different string that had links in different parts of the story.

During this and a few other changes, I realized that the thread pulling wasn’t linear, and my woven piece was more like an intricate knot. If I pulled, other things tightened around the piece and shifted everything else. So those adjustments needed to be thoughtful, and I always had a fallout to the decision.

In trying to come to any decision about my story, I’m noticing a trend where I feel frozen and unable to move forward. My most recent bout of this is actually not about the above mentioned plot conundrum, but was about a simpler one, that still weighed heavy on me. My solution is to usually do what others call procrastinating, but I like to call stepping away to gain perspective. So, I Netflix and Prime any free-time away and then catch up on the gossip on message boards. Doesn’t that sound productive?

Anyway, while re-watching one of my favorite shows(Veronica Mars in case you’re interested), I stumbled across another snarky but deeply thoughtful message board with a thread about the show. I wasted explored some time there, and was engrossed in reading their early theories of what direction the show could/should/would go in. There were so many different, yet interesting ideas that I again was instantly fascinated with the fallout that each suggestion created. Out of every five or so theories that were thrown around, at least three usually seemed enjoyable and even plausible.

I was  slapped in the face with the notion that there wasn’t a ‘right’ way to tell the story. Just equally different ways. That could easily apply to my own writing as well. My constant fear of course is then making a decision that leads me into a corner, or into a place that’s not relatable to many. That’s part of the adventure in the process though I guess, and one I should embrace because it’s what makes each story unique.

I’m still unsure exactly how far I’ll take the characters at that point in the book. I like the messiness of it, the realness of something coming together that probably shouldn’t but does because the stakes are high. Playing and bouncing it around in my brain will get me to the final decision. And whatever place I decide to go, it will be the direction that feels most intuitive for me in a sea of many I could take. There’s something so lovely about that, and it’s probably what draws me to writing in the first place. It’s like life. There’s no right answer, just a world full of options that lead us to interesting twists we have to figure out.

Flying by the seat of my pants

I only just opened my e-mail to discover I was up for a blog post today and nearly missed it altogether. I’m a bit of an airhead these days I’m afraid.  Ironically, that personality trait is a pet peeve of mine.  And so it is that in this season of my life I should begin to display such symptoms.  Rats!  Double Rats!  Ah well, even airheads deserve their dues, I suppose. Right? Of course right!

So, here I am up at bat, desperately wanting to wow the lot of you, who follow this blog, with my winning personality and skilled writing and … I’ve no clue what to write about. The timer is ticking; I can see the sand falling through the hourglass. It’s my time to shine and all I’ve got with me is a dim flashlight. Bullocks! Double bullocks! (It’s not a bad word if you’re not British, is it? *grin*) Therefore, I have decided to pants this posting–thus, the title and our topic. Quick, grab a cup of coffee and a popcorn ball (because, they’re just so grande and they remind me of being a kid) and lets have a go from inside the mind of an airheaded pantser. That sounds like jolly fun, doesn’t it? (I must confess, this entire thing is being written with a British accent, in my head. Reason being–that I’ve been on a bit of a Celebrity Big Brother binge of late and well, the show’s done in the U.K. now isn’t it? So, for the most part, the majority of people on it have lovely Brit accents–which are now stuck in my head! *another silly grin*)

There’s lots of opinions and ideas and discussion about plotting versus (not plottering verses, plotting as opposed to)–I guess they call it “pantsing”.   I’ve just learned that recently, the word for the way my wacked-out brain handles the stuff of creating when it comes to prose and even poetry.  I quite like the word–Pantsing!  In high school it meant something all together different, didn’t it?  Something you were not just scolded for doing, but punished for, yes?  And now, I can choose to pants all I want and it’s perfectly acceptable.  That is, to the other pantsers.  The plotters–eh, not so much sometimes.  But I’ve found a place where we pantsers and the plotters can all live together peacefully; where we can coexist, and give & take from each other’s creative styles. Isn’t that lovely?  Want to follow me into that world?  … The world of … a Pantsers mind? Let’s go!

First, let me define for you the word: Pantsing. Though, you may have been able to contextually surmise its meaning, I’ll set the record officially straight. Pantsing, is when an author approaches the creation of a piece without plot and outline. No official plot and outline, that is. Nothing on paper, (I know, what’s paper? Who even uses it any longer?) and nothing in a document–no outline of a plot, just vast nothingness. I’m pantsing right now! (Don’t you wish you could see that?! *wink, wink, nudge nudge*)

I can only speak for myself, which believe me is not only enough but something you should all be grateful for. Here is an example of my writing process:

Inspiration: I’m really a words person. Language romances me.  Some are won with a beautiful melody but I prefer the caress of prose. Frequently, my inspiration comes from dialogue. Something I hear in a television show, movie, real life conversation, or perhaps a phrase or sentence I’ve read (on a sign, billboard, in a periodical, or even a book) that grabs my attention. These words begin to formulate ideas that ping from every direction of my red-headed brain. The ideas ruminate until the strongest of them surfaces and begins to take root. (Pardon me, while I conjure the image of a spermatozoa’s journey to penetrate an egg leading to the creation of a baby; that’s pretty much what goes on in here.)

Idea: Let’s use one I’ve already done. Technically, this part is the inspiration but I’m leaving it here under “idea”, cuz I’m a rebel like that! So there I am all snuggled in for the night watching my favorite medical drama when this doctor begins to explain the process for the being on a transplant list, and receiveing an organ from one, to her patient. She explains that transplant patients are clocked in to the second, so when an organ becomes available, it goes to the person on the list clocked in first. In this case, her patient missed receiving the available organ by 17 seconds. Which meant the person ahead of him on the list was clocked in only 17 seconds sooner.

I started thinking about one of my favorite sayings: “It only takes a moment for everything to change.” Then I started rolling about short spans of time and all the moments that can, and do, occur in those little blips. I tossed around different lengths of seconds to see what seemed most plausible for a handful of normal life events to occur within. I came up with 11 seconds. This birthed the idea to write a short story about a young girl and all the significant moments in her life that occurred within an 11 second time-frame.

Writing:  I loathe the outlining process. I need to get in there while the idea is fresh and new and exciting and follow that little creative burst swirling around in my head.  If I have any research to do, I sort of pants it too, by Google-ing things as I go. I can’t get bogged down with research because I’m jonesing to get to the good stuff — which is the writing of the story that’s waiting impatiently to burst forth.

This is where the “pantsing” occurs. After an idea takes hold, and I know it’s one I want to pursue, I sit down and start writing. The story just comes together and the characters emerge kind of on their own. They start doing things and saying things and lord forbid I have an independent idea of my own, they pretty much override my decisions and do what they want.

Like this one time, (hahaha, you thought I was going to say “at band camp”, didn’t you?) I was writing a piece about an overweight teen. She was going to share anecdotes about her life as a “fat kid” and people’s different responses to her as a heavy person. I wanted her to be casual and funny and easy-going and … when she poked her head out, she was bitter, angry, and apparently in group counseling. Her attitude was rough and her feelings were raw and she made everyone in the group sessions uncomfortable. By the way, group therapy was HER design, not mine! I mean, she hated it but she’s the one who wrote the back-story about her parents forcing her to go, you know–the whole parents that don’t “get” the teen angsty sort of thing, … anyway  I would have spared her from it but like I said, I get vetoed quite a lot.

Finishing touches to the first draft: Once the idea is down in story form, that’s my first draft. Then, and only then, do the tiny little rebel plotters and outliners, that hide out in my grey matter, get to come out with their pickaxes and pencils and make some notes. Usually, the notes are solely to remind me of one thing or another as I go along, so I can keep my details straight. Or, sometimes my Indy-500 brain speeds ahead and writes the ending, or maybe a scene for later use. I let the plotters make notes of intentions because as I mentioned in the beginning of this little journey, I tend to be a bit of an airhead these days and I don’t want to forget my genius ideas! *laughs*

That’s it, basically. That’s my pantsing process. If it makes no sense to you, don’t despair, you’re not alone. I know it doesn’t make sense to the Plotters either!

*waves goodbye*